Malaysia Faces Key Ruling on Religious Freedom

May 29, 2007

Source: The News & Advance

KUALA LUMPUR: Multiracial Malaysia faces a milestone legal verdict Wednesday which lawyers and rights groups say will determine if Muslims can renounce their faith.

The case, involving a woman who converted from Islam to Christianity, goes to the heart of a debate on whether civil courts should take precedence over tribunals based on Islamic sharia law. It comes at a time of heightened religious tensions in moderate Malaysia, and would address an issue -- renunciation of the faith -- that is one of the gravest sins in Islam. The Federal Court will rule on an appeal by Lina Joy, who for a decade has been battling the government to have her decision to convert to Christianity officially recognised. "Although it is not freedom of religion per se, the decision will determine if she can convert out of Islam without going to the sharia court," said the vice president of Malaysia's Bar Council, Ragunath Kesavan.